More than anything else, Spiderman 2018 manages to capture comfort, the comfort I felt from the paradox of the simple relatability, the grandiosity of the legend, and the urban relevance in the Sam Raimi movies I felt in childhood. And it still managed to add to that a flavor of color, craziness, and unpredictability that only comics can bring through all the tangential but welcome characters and turns that occur in the story.
Unlike other superhero stories, Spiderman is a legend rather than a myth, because he’s grounded in a real place, and represents a real culture amalgamation as opposed to a symbolic or representative one. Spiderman is every kid from Queens, trying to keep themselves afloat between jobs, tasks, trains, and personal relationships on the periphery of a city, a city that’s like a massive ship on water, and like the ocean it suspends above, navigating it is intense and unpleasant, but it’s somewhere that in the spaces between the wavering of loneliness and busyness, there’s a shadow of your own self that might guide you somewhere that you know you have to be but can’t quite find.
Peter’s story shows that regardless of what you are capable of, that will always be true, and that struggle will always exist.
Queens is probably the most diverse place on the planet. It is the single most diverse county in the most diverse city in the United States. There are more languages spoken in square meters in Queens than anywhere else in the world, with the number according to Google being 138 total languages in Queens (out of the 800 total spoken in New York City). 56% of Queens Residents are recorded as speaking a language other than English at home. Yet, despite this, I do think that Spiderman manages to cross those borders and be relatable toward the image of Queens. The reason is that Spiderman is a story concerned with the present, not the past or future, and it manages to transcend the need for backstory.
I’ll come clean, I’m from Queens, and I’m a child of immigrant parents. Many of my friends are children of immigrant parents. I can’t speak for them, but I think living with a background like that causes a kid to see their parents’ stories as something like a fairy tale, something that is very difficult to relate to and hard to identify with because of how different their present reality is, but yet it’s something that they can’t throw away, because the truth is America is a vacuum of culture which commodifies and devalues groups and identities, and leaves everyone in its system a grab-what-you-can scenario, like it’s economic system. Unlike its economic system, though, you can’t really buy or produce culture, because it’s not something that can be engineered by individuals; it needs communal ties and shared value systems, so American culture is a mercantilist culture system. In that lack of cultural context for the child of immigrants, unrelatable fairy tales are just one part in the search for context in the American Vacuum, and Spiderman is the legend, I think, for Queens that manages to transcend that gap, despite its cheesiness, schlockiness, and the fantastical notion of vigilantism in a mobilized state.

The story of Spiderman 2018 is what really managed to surprise me, even more so than the mechanics, because it manages to flesh out Peter’s internal life with his social encounters, personal overambitions, and boisterous inability to let people or conflicts reach him. It plays out the dichotomy of man and masked hero so well and it never manages to lose that comfort; the whole thing feels like a Christmas movie, even in times where I feel it shouldn’t.
There are real topics and problems showcased in the game, but they are often glossed over or too cleanly dealt with (violence(justice(police(the state that enforces violence decides the violence that is appropriate(the comfortable death of vigilantism(appropriation)))))), but I suppose that isn’t too far from the direction the movies take neither. Maybe this is too much to ask from a legend that exists to reinforce the identity of a state-supported culture. (I tend to not think so, hehe.)

The mechanics and systems here are also great, a little too great, and there were many times where I wished that I could’ve messed up more, done something that messed with me or shown me the side of this character that lets me mess up rather than lets me watch Peter mess up something in his own life. By that same token though, it did let me learn to appreciate a little the many ways the game allows to change up or add things to its traversal and combat on my own initiative, rather than the games, even if the basest form of play was still always acceptable, some self-propelled pizzazz felt fitting for the character. Initially I had thought about how I would design a Spiderman game, and how maybe I might have a system where there would be several types of materials buildings and things would be made of that each have a different relationship with web-matter, and you would individually slow down time and shoot webs at corners and places with different materials to see how that would affect your traversal until you get good enough at recognizing those patterns and can just fly off at your own speed. But, playing this game made me realize, Spiderman as a story isn’t really about that. The films or comics never really attempted that kind of heavy simulation of character or physical agency. Rather the story was always told in broad strokes, something that anyone can digest, and there’s nothing wrong with a story like that. Perhaps my idea was trying for designing a system where one could get to know what Spiderman thinks like when he’s moving, but the game’s system is more accurate to how the stories read in their respective mediums, and I have learned to get a sense of respect for that. Besides, this Spiderman isn’t new to this, and it isn’t exactly an origin story. It’s like a remix story, and a damn good one, I think. And the mechanics, its gadgets, modularized combat system, and various gameplay modes help contribute to that, I think.

The City of New York is also great, and it adds to my great personal strong attraction to representations of real places in video games, next to the pastiche New York from Parasite Eve, Yakuza’s Shinjuku and Osaka, TWEWY’s Shibuya, (and my own undergraduate thesis project’s small recreation of various areas of my university campus :P) But, I do wish they added Queens!!! It’s not accessible on the map!! And it was all over the films too, even the most recent one. Many of the streets I grew up in and worked around show up all around the various Spiderman films, and I was so excited to see them live through this game, but to no avail. Queens is so important for this character, just to be able to go there to destress from all the high flying action would’ve been great, even as side content.

To address the elephant in the room, Spiderman 2018 has a real problem. And that problem is its constant fellation of the NYPD. The game tries to run the angle of Spiderman having some tough times getting through to the coppers at first, and having some conflict as they often tell you they don’t need your help. It’s a classic superhero vigilante story line. But the game indulges in the bad egg argument and separates the fascist cops from the good cops by making them a separate entity and easily distinguishable and even throws them under a Russian leader to better distinguish a foreign enemy. Even ignoring those sentiments, pay attention to the camera, as it hovers and zooms over the NYPD logo in scenes, and pay attention to the mechanical significance given to uniformed characters in the quest systems and spawning crimes and information delivery system of the game. Not to mention the appropriation and friendly-ifying surveillance systems. It simply does not explore the breadth of these topics enough to be able say anything meaningful about them, and keeps them as set dressing for its comfortable story (albeit delightfully personable it may be) about the legend of relatability. Maybe the worst part of it, at least for me, was a random quip Peter made when fighting loose riker’s island inmates. I don’t remember what it was exactly and it’s too hard to find now, but it was something like “come on guys, just think of it as your home!” when referring to the prison he’s trying to beat them back into. A line like that just makes no sense with a correctional system intended to actually, yknow, rehabilitate people and help them eventually or hopefully reintegrate into society or a way of life that’s healthy for them and the people around them (not what the prison system in America actually does, but y’know, that is the theory, right?). Especially given that most people in the actual riker’s island are either pretrial defendants or serving short sentences, a line like that just has no place in either as a reflection of the real world, a reflection of American propaganda, or a reflection on Peter’s character. There’s just too many missteps in this game like that.

Finally I will give one last note on this game. That is that it turns out that all any open world game needs to make me want to play it continuously is give me a bunch of unlockable spidersuits to change in and out of as I play and let it actually stay on in the cutscenes. One of the greatest cosmetic features of any game in recent memory just cause it spans so much of the real history of the character’s stories.

My closing thoughts are that I want a game like this but for Superman, and I want it to be the total opposite. I want the story to be myth-like instead of legend like. I want it to focus on the unrelatable and alien aspects of superman’s character. And I want there to be ten fights in the game total.
Thank you

Reviewed on Jul 03, 2022